The amount of money expended on conferences globally is staggering. I make my living, very comfortably, as a professional speaker at well over 180 events a year, and I’m not even scratching the surface of the industry. Simply put, in this day and age of proper communication being vitally important – conferencing today is possibly the most powerful way of getting an entire story across to a company of employees – and the popularity of the industry is staggering.
Why then do most businesses fail at effectively delivering their message?
Conference organisers and professional event organisers, along with professional speakers abound, and it’s fair to say that most deliver a solid, competent job – of delivering at an event. It’s difficult to coordinate a company-wide event or conference. It does take an awful lot of planning and logistics to run a successful gathering – but it needs to go a lot further than theming, venue selection, invitations, agenda timings, solid content and refreshments. Good conference planners take their planning strategy seriously. And so do professional speakers. At every pre-event briefing session I attend I ask for the answers to seven key questions that need to be gone through and answered in detail prior to any form of activity scheduling; and if more businesses did this in advance, I believe they would and could achieve a great deal more from the time and budget expended:
Where are we now? A great place to start – and when put down in black and white a company picture of a mission – conferencing vision becomes a lot clearer. This question should really be answered in the context of forming a current picture about the business and its objectives and is the perfect place to start a strategic review.
What is it we want to achieve? Every conference or event should have a clearly defined set of business objectives. Measurable activities can be created, managed and delivered a great deal better than vague ideas of communication or indistinct thoughts around ‘firing up the troops’. It equally isn’t good enough to state “It’s just our annual event, and we always just do it…”
All too often events simply just take place and are immediately forgotten about when the last banner is lowered and the bar bill is added up. Good events should always have a pre, during and post phase of activities.
It’s important to motivate the delegates (who all too often already are victims of ‘conference fatigue’ even before the event starts) in terms of clarifying the importance of the event, its messaging and all the desired outcomes, well in advance of the event itself taking place.
Obviously next is the necessary planning activity around and during the event. Has it been carefully scheduled to maximize such things as engagement and networking as well as having a solid clarity of message and purpose? How best should messaging be delivered? Does it really require the old standard series of 45 minute keynotes in a laundry list of an agenda; or would interviews, workshops and panel discussions help the process. All too often I’m hired as a professional speaker because I can ‘lift’ the overall event – and every speaker or participant should also match this standard. Is there a professional master of ceremonies who can guide and run the agenda timings proficiently? There’s plenty to consider here in order to maximize the potential of the event and deliver a solid return against budgetary expenditure.
Post event activities should also be developed. How do you best continue the theme and messaging into the organization beyond the event itself? For how long, and in what form; is there a means of supplying post event information to the actual delegates who attend, in the form of summaries or follow up messaging?
Who are we delivering the message to? Is there complete clarity as to who is attending as delegates? What levels of the organization do they represent? Lower level employees need a different type of messaging to C-suite delegates. Understanding the make-up of the audience is of paramount importance. Are there outside associates such as suppliers, or business partners attending?
What are the delegate’s attitudes? This aspect needs to be carefully considered. The mood of the attendees at both work (in advance of the event) and the actual mind set they bring to conference is important. Let me repeat the issue around conference fatigue which I believe is crucial to understand in this day and age. There is a marked lack of excitement today from that which once existed around the typical conference. Delegates are expected to typically suffer through long, droning days where one (usually amateur) presenter simply follows another – with little or no audience involvement or participation.
Most delegates tell me (in advance) that they’ve simply ‘seen it all before’ and beyond all else are only interested in the personal free time and the opportunity for a few drinks at the expense of the business. Conference audiences demand engagement today – and we should be looking to surprise and delight them rather than delivering the ‘conference as usual’.
Is there a clear, determinable response we require from the event? Probably the least asked question in conference and event planning, yet it is significantly important to create a clear message with purpose and intent that people can learn, use or indeed act upon as a result of the activity itself. Knowing this in advance allows each presenter or participant to tailor messaging that is meaningful and clear.
How do we intend to achieve this? From a detailed strategic understanding of the answers to the above questions, conference planning is made simple, clear and better focussed. The answers here generally write themselves, yet this should always be seen as the last question in the process – whilst all too often I find it is where companies begin their conference planning.
Strategy is sequential and needs to be fully addressed in the order that I’ve laid out the questions above rather than merely taking a shot in the dark at the issue. Professional speakers and conference organizers can deliver better against a clear and fully detailed strategic brief; and the other by-products of so doing are that everyone involved in the entire event will be better off as well as the delegates themselves.